Short Nerd Chief

Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

Typographic mistakes and how to avoid them

Posted by Fred on April 18, 2008

Oh, how I do love obsessive people (although I wish we’d stop referring to them as “Nazis”).  The spelling obsessive is quite common, as is the grammar obsessive. I’d never observed the typographically OCD before now.  Via Lifehacker, observe Chris Phin, self described typography nazi:

A hyphen – the kind of short dash you see above – should really only be used when linking words such as ready-made. It shouldn’t even be used mathematically to represent a minus, as there’s a dedicated character for that, too [thanks, Dash Nazi!]. Most other uses mandate an en dash – as here, for example – or when planning meetings from 1–2. Changing fashions mean the the long dash—this one, called an em dash—is rarely seen, but where it is, it’s usual to render it without the spaces on either side or with special hairline spaces instead.

Chris gives solutions to most of the problems he identifies, at least for the Mac.  On Windows, there are two general ways to enter a special character. For some character sets, hold down [Alt] while pressing a series of numbers on the numeric keypad (not the row of numbers on the keyboard, so laptop users may well be challenged). In programs such as Microsoft Word, you can also enter the Unicode value and then press [Alt]+X.  Here are the PC solutions to Chris’ typographical mistakes:

Opening double quote [Alt]+0147
Closing double quote [Alt]+0148
Opening single quote [Alt]+0145
Closing single quote [Alt]+0146
Closing apostrophe ’08 [Alt]+0146
Single prime (feet) 2032, [Alt]+X
Double prime (inches) 2033, [Alt]+X
Multiplication sign × [Alt]+0215
Degree symbol ° [Alt]+0176
en dash [Alt]+0150
em dash [Alt]+0151
interpunct · [Alt]+0183
Ellipsis [Alt]+0133
Left guillemet « [Alt]+0171
Right guillemet ­» [Alt]+0187
Fractions—quarters ¼ ½ ¾ [Alt]+0188, [Alt]+0189, [Alt]+0190
Fractions—thirds ⅓ ⅔ 2153 [Alt]+X, 2154 [Alt]+X
Fractions—fifths ⅕ ⅖ ⅗ ⅘ 2155 [Alt]+X, 2156 [Alt]+X, 2157 [Alt]+X, 2158 [Alt]+X
Fractions—eighths ⅛ ⅜ ⅝ ⅞ 215B [Alt]+X, 215C [Alt]+X, 215D [Alt]+X, 215E [Alt]+X
Fraction slash 2044 [Alt]+X

Characters can also be inserted in any Windows program by using the Character Map, which (on XP) is found under System Tools on the Start Menu.  This was the only way to insert the Alt-X unicode characters in Windows Live Writer, which does not accept the Alt-X command.

I, of course, do none of these things, but this was an interesting exercise nonetheless.

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

IE7 vs. Safari 3.1 vs. Firefox 3 beta 4

Posted by Fred on March 20, 2008

ie7_logosafari_logo firefox_logo 

Apple has released another update of its Safari browser for Windows, and claims in usual hyperbolic Cupertino fashion that it is “the fastest, easiest-to-use web browser in the world.”  Mozilla is on beta 4 of the next version of Firefox, and Microsoft released IE7 not that long ago (and is beginning to test IE8).  So I decided to do a few quick tests to see how much Safari has improved.  When it was originally released, I kept it installed for about 15 minutes before returning to FF.  For purposes of the following, I created a new FF profile with no extensions, but kept everything else as a stock install.  The test PC is a Compaq Presario A900 notebook (1.6 Ghz dual-core Pentium, 2 GB RAM, Vista Home Premium SP1), which is squarely middle-of-the-road these days.

For the first test, I loaded the default home page of each browser (MSN for IE, Firefox Start for Firefox and Apple Start for Safari) and used the Vista Sphere Timer gadget to time the startup time.  I did this three times and averaged the results:

IE7 Firefox 3.0 b4 Safari 3.1
7.15 sec 5.70 sec 6.63 sec

Firefox has an advantage in this test, as the Google-driven start page is sparse and relatively graphic-free. While I’d argue that this is relevant as indicative of design philosophy, nevertheless I set the default home page to be about:blank in all three browsers and ran the test again:

IE7 Firefox Safari
4.04 sec 3.30 sec 2.64 sec

Safari is noticeably zippier when not asked to load the Apple start page.  How many users ever change the default start page, however?  In any event, the differences here are minor.  Apple also claims superior HTML and JavaScript rendering speed for its new browser, based on tests using iBench 5.0, a test suite developed in 2003 by PC Magazine and VeriTest.  It has been criticized, however, for giving Safari an advantage because Safari reports that a page is loaded before calculating layout of the page.  Other tests show different results.  I decided to use the JS test at Celtic Kane, running each browser through the test ten times:

IE7 Firefox Safari
1336.3 ms 676.7 ms 394.6 ms

Test results are only as good as the test, but this test tends to support Apple’s claims regarding JavaScript speed.  I have not, however, noticed much of a real-world difference on AJAX-heavy sites like Gmail.  Finally, I opened four tabs in each browser to check memory use.  In this case, two different Gmail accounts, Google Reader and my blog Dashboard at  It appears Mozilla’s efforts are paying off:

IE7 Firefox Safari
189.96 MB 63.64 MB 131.62 MB

Benchmarks don’t tell the whole story, of course, and each browser has additional advantages.  Safari has SnapBack, resizable text areas and proprietary color and font management.  Firefox has an open and extendible structure, which allows users to add virtually any conceivable functionality via extensions.  IE has ActiveX (which is as much curse as blessing, of course, and achievable in the other browsers with some tweaking) and a shrinking but still sizable library of sites that work better (and sometimes only) in IE.  The latter also comes preinstalled on the dominant OS, obviously.  I plan to use each browser extensively over the next week or so and cover features and real-world performance later.

Posted in internet, software, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Space makes Scoble cry (me, too)

Posted by Fred on February 29, 2008

WWT We now know what will make Robert Scoble cry – the immensity of the universe and our tiny little place in it, as visualized by Microsoft Research’s Worldwide Telescope. MS describes WWT as “a rich visualization environment that functions as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from the best ground- and space telescopes to enable seamless, guided explorations of the universe.”  That is, perhaps, the world’s most boring description of a service that is incredibly amazing.  Even an astrophysicist gets a little giddy talking about it:

“The WorldWide Telescope takes the best images from the greatest telescopes on Earth … and in space … and assembles them into a seamless, holistic view of the universe. This new resource will change the way we do astronomy … the way we teach astronomy … and, most importantly, I think it’s going to change the way we see ourselves in the universe,” said Dr. Roy Gould of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics. “The creators of the WorldWide Telescope have now given us a way to have a dialogue with our universe.”

It’s a pretty one-way dialogue, but the images released so far for the as-yet-unavailable service do pack quite a wallop.  Here are three, stolen shamelessly from the TEDBlog:




Posted in Science, Technology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Kinda Big MS Research announcement that makes Scoble cry coming?

Posted by Fred on February 15, 2008

What is Scoble talking about here?

It’s not often that I see software that really changes my world. It’s even rarer that I see software that I know will change the world my sons live in. I can count those times pretty easily. The first time I saw an Apple II in 1977. When Richard Cameron showed me Apple’s Hypercard. Microsoft’s Excel. Aldus’ Pagemaker. And something called Photoshop, all in his West Valley Community College classroom. Later when I saw Marc Andreessen’s Netscape running the WWW. ICQ and Netmeeting which laid the ground for Skype.

Like I said, these things don’t happen often.

Yesterday was one of those days. Curtis Wong and Jonathan Fay, researchers at Microsoft, fired up their machines and showed me something that I can’t tell you about until February 27th. I’m sure you’ll read about his work in the New York Times or TechCrunch, among other places. It’s too inspiring to stay a secret for long.

While watching the demo I realized the way I look at the world was about to change. While listening to Wong I noticed a tear running down my face. It’s been a long while since Microsoft did something that had an emotional impact on me like that.

Kevin Schofield says you shouldn’t get ahead of yourself:

But I want to be clear: we don’t have some huge product announcement planned for the end of the month. Microsoft Research doesn’t do product announcements. And we certainly don’t roll out “______ killers” (fill in the blank with whatever product or company you choose) just in case you were hoping for something like that. Coincidentally, at the end of the month there IS a big product announcement from Microsoft for three products that ALL happen to have technology from MSR in them. But Microsoft’s product teams do those announcements, not MSR. We did have a big announcement two weeks ago about the new lab that we’re starting in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (and thanks to everyone who sent their good wishes!) And we will be showing a whole bunch of new cool things to some reporters, bloggers and visitors at our annual MSR Techfest event in March.

All that said, the research project we are showing at the end of the month is exceedingly cool and we hope it will have an impact. Will it make you cry? Well, your mileage may vary. But in any case you’re just going to have to wait and see.

Anyway, what do you think it is? MSR says it’s not a product per se. Scoble follows up by calling it a service, not a product. An inspiring service, which would make it a change for MS, which makes a lot of nice products, but whose services are less than inspiring (Skydrive, Hotmail, Spaces, all the Live stuff).  Scoble lives and breathes social networking, so it probably has lots of social features, but then again he chokes up a little bit about iPhones and photography, so who knows? Maybe it’s a web service that runs on the iPhone, lets you take photos like Thomas Hawk and microblog them to your 6,000 closest friends. I’m more interested in what makes Scoble cry. Probably puppies, unicorns and rainbows.

Posted in Technology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Free App Friday: Fizz Weather

Posted by Fred on December 21, 2007


Today’s free application at Handango is Fizz Weather for Smartphone.  This is a $16.95 value for, well, free.  Features include 7 day full forecasts, 2 day forecasts, 6 hourly intervals, and current conditions for 58,000 cities worldwide.  You can also get weather maps that you can zoom and pan, ski reports, airport delays and weather alerts (US only).  You can access all this information from your home screen or via an application.  I used Fizz Traveller on my Blackjack and found it useful – Fizz Weather provides more weather information, while Traveller provides basic weather info (forecasts only – no current conditions) plus alarms, currency conversion, to-do lists, etc.

The one downside I ran into with Traveller was that there were lots of times that weather information for a location was unavailable.  This is undoubtedly a problem with Fizz’s upstream weather data provider, CustomWeather. In all, it’s a nice piece of software, and a good alternative to paying AT&T a monthly fee for MyCast Weather, which comes installed in the Applications folder by default. I have a religious objection to paying AT&T for the services they try to push, and this includes MyCast ($3.99/month), TeleNav ($9.99/month) and XM Radio Mobile ($8.99/month).  You can get most of the same functionality for free by using Fizz Weather, Windows Live Search or Google Maps, and XStreamXM Mobile.

Posted in Music, Shopping, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Microsoft shows off Windows Mobile 6.1, AT&T users would settle for WM6

Posted by Fred on November 29, 2007

Engadget Mobile says that “today Microsoft showed off the next version of Windows Mobile at their annual Mobius conference.”  A handshake NDA prohibits those who saw it from saying much more, but it’s apparently an update, not an upgrade.  Call it WM 6.1, not WM7.  That’s all well and good, but I still want to know where the WM6 upgrade for my Blackjack I is.  How ’bout it, AT&T?  Think you can manage the upgrade you promised long ago before MS releases the next version in Q1 2008?  Didn’t think so.

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Vista ‘mistakes’ and Windows 7

Posted by Fred on November 14, 2007

Mary Jo Foley says Microsoft has learned from its mistakes with Vista, and won’t repeat them in Windows 7.

Microsoft hasn’t said explicitly what it plans to do to minimize disruptions from any internal changes it does make with Windows 7. But it has dropped some hints.If the company does build Windows 7 on top of MinWin — the stripped-down Windows core — as it sounds as if it is planning to do, that will help reduce some problems Microsoft and its partners have encountered, in terms of Windows dependencies. There’s been talk Microsoft plans to include a hypervisor as part of Windows 7, enabling users to run applications virtually to prevent incompatibilities. And there’s always the mysterious “StrongBox” feature that allegedly is part of Windows 7. Perhaps StrongBox provides some kind of isolation from lower-level Windows changes?

I’ve been using Vista on a couple of machines for a little while, and haven’t had any major problems.  Granted, I wasn’t an early adopter, and these were OEM installs and not upgrades.  But overall, the experience has been good.  I like the new search functionality, and the way access to administrative tools is laid out.  I like the new Media Center and Aero interface as well.  UAC is annoying, but you get used to it, and it’s been no more of a problem than having to provide superuser credentials to make system changes under Ubuntu. It’s by no means perfect, of course.  I’d like to see some of the features from the Business and Ultimate editions made available to home users, such as syncing to remote drives, offline folder access and more robust networking.  And nothing in Vista makes me want to upgrade the XP machines (not that the eight year old Dell Dimension would run Vista adequately anyway).

One quibble MS needs to address: after both of my Anytime Upgrades from Home basic to Home Premium, Windows Live OneCare refused to work.  I had to uninstall and reinstall OneCare.  Not a huge problem, but since I never left the MS plantation, you’d think they could have done better.

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